The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers is the second novel from author Thomas Mullen. I had previously read both first and third books, The Last Town on Earth and The Revisionists respectively, and enjoyed both immensely. So when I found this title at the local library’s used book sale, I knew I had to pick it up. And BONUS: It was a signed copy.
Firefly Brothers is set during the Depression-era in the mid-west, when bank robbers and gangsters were seen by many as folk heroes, their exploits followed closely by the ever widening-media. The story centers around two brothers, Jason and Whit Fireson (they obtain the moniker “Firefly brothers” from reporters and the world at large). The brothers are infamous bank robbers and murderers who, of course, are constantly in the news for crimes they commit and more that they don’t.
The story begins with death, two deaths to be more precise. Jason and Whit are dead, but miraculously wake up in a morgue, both riddled with bullet holes. They have no memory of the previous night’s exploits or their deaths, they only know that they have to get away. Using their now-famous death as cover, the brothers return to the only way of life known to them—robbing banks.
Another side of the story comes from the point of view of Darcy, Jason’s girlfriend, who gets left behind not knowing the fate of her lover, until she receives a mysterious telegraph, which gives her hope that Jason is still alive, despite all the rumors and media stories to the contrary.
The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers is a rich, in depth story full of wondrous details and description. One of my favorite descriptive passages comes about halfway through the book. It’s from Weston, the third Fireson brother who isn’t a bank robber: “He was afraid of losing things because everyone seemed to be losing things. You walked a few blocks and passed a table or chair lacking legs and sitting there like a war amputee. Or you passed a car whose windshield wipers clung to such a bursting notebook of parking tickets that you knew it was abandoned, its owner having decided it was too expensive to maintain. In certain neighborhoods the police weren’t towing cars anymore, so the heaps simply sat there unmolested. Scavengers didn’t even strip their parts, because whom could they sell them to?” This passage displays both the desperation and learned apathy of the era that ran rampant through society.
Not only is Mullen’s writing beautiful and fascinating, his story telling skills are masterful. Throughout the story, there are subtle hints dropped about Darcy’s mental health, and not until about half way through did I start questioning whether the Firefly brothers are actually reanimating. Mullen likes to give his readers something to ponder about throughout his books. He asks questions that are not easy to answer, and it makes for a wonderful and intriguing read every time I pick up one of his books.